February 5, 2014 | Volume 8, Issue 2

Smartphone apps, social networking sites can be dangerous for kids; parents need to know the dangers, including bullying

It seems that new apps for teens and tweens are showing up almost daily. One of the apps that has been in the news quite recently, and not for good reason, is Ask.fm.

The website, which can also be downloaded to any smart phone or tablet, is a Latvian based website and allows the user to ask questions anonymously to other members.

The questions can be anything they want, the website does not monitor the questions or filter them in any way.

Because of this lack of censoring many young people have been accused of sending threats and bullying other users. Many of these threats have lead to suicides, according to news sources.

Granite Falls High School has had problems with some of their students receiving death threats from an anonymous Ask.fm user. Both the Granite Falls Police and the FBI are involved. An arrest was made last Friday.

Newly assigned police chief Dave Bowman said, “While we don’t believe the threats are credible, we take them very seriously.  This particular threat scenario is an emerging and growing challenge for schools and law enforcement across the U.S.” 

After hearing of these threats, I asked my two teenage children if they knew about Ask.fm and checked their phones to see if they had those applications.

My son didn’t but knew what it was, however, my 14-year-old daughter had the application. While she rarely uses it, I warned her of the threats and took a look at her phone. Thank goodness she hadn’t accepted any users that were anonymous. She knew everyone on her list. However, I did emphasize with her that she needed to be careful and that I would be checking her phone more regularly.

She was happy that I told her about threats others have been receiving and told me she would let me know if that ever happened to her. Kids truly want their parents to protect them and they are mature enough to know what could happen to them if these types of predators get permission to communicate with them.

Here are a few things that chicagonow.com, who did an extensive story on the website, thinks that parents should know about Ask.fm:

• Ask.fm’s Terms of Service state, “Physical persons must be 13 years or older to use this service.” Tweens are not allowed on Ask.fm.  Parents can say no and the website backs you up, as does COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law in the U.S.

• No one monitors the content on Ask.fm.  The website states, “The ask.fm service allows for anonymous content which ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the ask.fm service at your own risk and that ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste.”

• The website “is increasingly being used as a means to communicate abusive, bullying and sexualised content,” according to Webwise. It “associated with some of the worst forms of cyberbullying” and has been linked to numerous suicides around the world, according to the Daily Mail.

• One user can block another user and must give a reason. Blocking someone, however, does not mean that they go away. A blocked person can still access the profile to view all other interactions.

• The site can be used anonymously, so users often have no way of knowing who is bullying or harassing them on the site.

• Users cannot increase privacy settings, as they can with the adjustable settings on Facebook and Twitter.

• Ask.fm is integrated with Facebook and Twitter - all these accounts can easily connect and what is posted on Ask.fm is easily shared and can appear on those other sites with next to no effort.

Please take the time to really check out this website and find out more about what is happening to others who are using it. It is not worth your child’s life or sense of security.

Schools in England have advised parents to not allow their children to use this website.

Chicogonow.com stated, “Following the suicide of a 14-year-old girl in Britain who had been bullied on Ask.fm, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, ‘There’s something all of us can do as parents and as users of the internet and that is not to use some of these vile sites. Boycott them, don’t go there, don’t join them – we need to do that as well. I’m very keen we look at all the action we can take to try and stop future tragedies like this.”

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